"I survived the freezes of '09 and '10!"

Growing tropicals where its not so tropical is the whole point of this blog, so allow me to share some plants that have defeated the odds by surviving not one, but two record breaking winters in a row!
I don't care what anyone tells you about "playing it safe" by growing plants in your zone, nature has a way of surprising you by its (perhaps not so surprising) will to live.  Today I'll show you some neat recovery photos but first, here are some shots from the courtyard garden featuring plants that are a bit more cold tolerant and only look tropical.

Almost tropical...
This Japanese birds nest fern is not only cold hardy, but huge and drop dead gorgeous!  I left "Lady Gaga" in her container to better emulate her natural habit as an epiphyte, and she seems to appreciate it!  This is truly one of the most tropical looking plants you can get without having to worry about frost.

So this is the clump of aechmeas I got a couple months ago, and its starting to bloom!  Maybe then I'll find out what type of aechmea in the (mostly cold hardy) ortgeisea alliance it could be.  Its a little late for it to be a gamosepala, so maybe a blumenavii?  I can't wait to find out!

Overwintered outdoors through numerous hard freezes...
Paurotis Palm -  Earlier in the year I pulled the spears out of all of the paurotis palm trunks, which led me to believe that they were dead.  Nope!  The same trunks are now pushing out multiple fronds in a frenzy.  Native, freeze tolerant and flood tolerant, Everglades palm is just about my favorite palm tree.

Monstera Deliciosa -  Here are some new leaves on the monstera deliciosa!  Apparently I'll have this one in the garden for years to come, since its taken two very cold winters and flooding last summer.  I expect to see the characteristic "swiss cheese" leaves in a month or so at the rate its going.

Neoregelia Pauciflora -  I moved my neoregelia pauciflora to the base of the live oak so that they'll grow up the trunk.  If you look closely, both rosettes are shooting out long stolons already, even though they haven't flowered yet.  I did cover these in winter, but they showed absolutely no damage so I figure they're at least worth a shot.  Neoregelia pauciflora is so prolific that they should recover from another black winter in no time.  To the left and right are super spiky quesnelia arvensis.  (A little late to bloom this year...)

Leather Fern -  Leather fern is a familiar sight to those in South Florida, but here in Jacksonville mine was knocked back by frost.  I think its slowness to recover can be blamed on how dry the last couple months have been.  In the rainy season this specimen will be underwater and loving it!

Ficus Decora -  Even ficus decora, or rubber plant is coming back from the roots!  This really makes me want to try strangler fig, if only I could find one for sale. 

False Cardamom Ginger -  My false cardamom was knocked back a bit by frost, but that's it, as you can see in the photo above.  If I could recommend one groundcover for a tropical look, this would be it.  Actually, if I could pick one foliage plant, flood tolerant plant, or perennial, this would also be it.  Alpinia Nutans, or false cardamom ginger is a low growing relative to all those variegated shell gingers you see everywhere.  It smells like cinnamon when you crush the leaves, is frost tolerant as gingers get, clumps densely and has these wonderful glossy leaves.  They only rarely bloom, but the lush and glossy green leaves are perfect just the way they are.

Look to the left in the photo above and you can get an idea of how tall it got for me last year! Just to the right of that is the more familiar variegated shell ginger, and in the back corner is that monstera deliciosa before the frost clipped it back.

There are other tropicals that made it of course, and this is only a small sampling of the many I risked it with.  A couple of plants didn't make it, but the way I see it, I only used the money that most gardeners spend on annuals.  At least tropicals have a chance of making it through to next year, so zone 9 gardeners, why not be adventurous and plant that ficus outside in a shady spot instead of tossing it in the trash?


  1. So surprised to note that the Bird Nest Bird can really take the climatic pressure.
    Trully it look so beautiful in your garden.

  2. James - This one is actually a Japanese species, so it does much better. The regular asplenium nidus can make it with protection, but asplenium antiquum (the Japanese one) is actually evergreen in our winters.

  3. aloha,

    that is a nice collection of hardy sub tropicals, what do you think of cannas, those are some of my favorites for color especially the variegated types.

  4. noel - I started some canna edulis from seed and its really doing well! Its more graceful to me than most of the plants sold at retailers, however the dark burgundy variety "australia" is really nice.

  5. You must be thrilled to see everything coming back again. I wonder if it hardens these plants as they survive cold winters every year? I thought you said that you were planting something to provide cover and have a little microclimate area next to the fence?

  6. africanaussie, I will tell you that the root systems get stronger and more extensive every year, and that many plants like gingers get thicker too. I didn't do it this winter, but I do plan on trying cold season sweet pea vines in late fall this winter.

  7. It is exciting to see the survivors, isn't it? I need to find your cold-hardy aechmeas. I lost a couple aechmeas in the freezes, and one that survived had severely burnt leaf tips. I have had a rubber plant for about 5 years. It does get damage some years, but is very quick to recover and provide the privacy it was planted for. Mine is already over three foot tall again. When I used to live in Winter Haven, there was a rubber tree around the corner that had grown to monstrous proportions...easily 40 feet tall and just as wide. Beautiful specimen, but it made me a little wary of planting one. The one I planted here made it to eight feet after two mild winters in a row. Oh, and strangler figs appear in this area without invitation.

  8. That birdsnest fern is awesome. You have a beautiful garden coming back. It's almost easy to forget the heartbreak of a few months ago. I really need to learn to be a patient gardener and enjoy each season.

  9. Its amazing how some plants can be so resilient and bounce back after an assault. And I commend you for not giving up on tropical plants in a not-so-tropical garden.

    I love your Japanese bird's nest fern. Will that survive in a tropical region where its hot and humid all year round?

  10. Nice to see Survivors of frost. In my garden curry leaves plant and Ixora are coming back. I love these Japanese brid nest

  11. Wow, that's incredible! I've never seen a bird's nest fern so large.

  12. Your unknown Aecmea is cylindrata 'Blue Cone', though I suspect you have discovered that by now :)


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